While being filmed for an episode of “Jeopardy!” as a contestant in September, Dr. Frederick Nelson fondly remembers sharing a personal moment with the late Alex Trebek, the beloved host of the popular ABC game show. Nelson, associate professor and chair of the Liberal Studies Department at Fresno State, joked that people at home might not recognize him in a suit and tie – as opposed to the shorts, sandals and Hawaiian shirts he’s known for wearing around campus.
Nelson’s first episode aired on Dec. 3 on ABC, as he won $20,001 and earned the opportunity to compete again in an episode that aired Dec. 4. Nelson’s appearances came as the network broadcast the final shows Trebek recorded before his death on Nov. 8 at age 80.
Trebek hosted Jeopardy! for over 35 years and holds the Guinness World Record for hosting the most episodes of a single game show — over 8,200. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2019, Trebek continued to host the show. His last day in the studio was Oct. 29.
“Alex was a gift to this planet,” Nelson said. “He was simultaneously super smart, funny, professional and kind.”
Nelson is an associate professor of science education and hoped for categories in science fiction or physics. He would have also been happy to see a “Lord of the Rings” category, one of his favorite novels and movies. Unfortunately, those categories didn’t come up, but he did enjoy answering questions about music.
“Alex really enjoys the game played well and complimented us on our play,” Nelson said. “It felt really good to get a compliment from Alex for play in a category or wagering and answering a Final Jeopardy clue.”
This isn’t the first time Nelson got a taste of “Jeopardy!” In 2009 he was in the contestant pool, but never got selected for the show. Nelson said this year’s process was different. After taking an online test in February, he got a virtual audition consisting of a second test and a practice game. Then, at the end of August, he got the call inviting him to be a contestant.
“It’s been a bucket-list item for me,” Nelson said.
The episode was recorded on Sept. 15 with COVID-19 precautions in place. After receiving negative COVID-19 test results, Nelson was able to visit the Sony Studio in Culver City. He was impressed to see that an entire week’s worth of episodes were recorded in one day. He also learned how tricky using the buzzer can be.
“The hardest part about playing is how to use the buzzer,” Nelson said. “When the answer is read, there are lights that appear around the game board. When the lights go out, you can click. If you click early, you get locked out from clicking again. Clicking at the right moment takes practice and a fast reaction time.”
(Photos courtesy to Jeopardy Productions, Inc and Frederick Nelson.)